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Online media is replacing newspapers and TV. Is that a bad thing?

How the new online media landscape is changing the way the public gets its news.

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So younger media consumers are not just trading links from Huffington Post on the left or Michelle Malkin on the right. They are going to the same sources their parents went to, just digitally – much like Stine. And, contrary to what other "older, wiser" news consumers might believe, they are actually fairly up to speed on the news.

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"In 2008, the knowledge level of younger news consumers was even with the older folks," Mr. Rosenstiel says. "They are still interested in news, not just opinion. That's what the Web has shown us. It was the medium they weren't interested in, not the message."

And younger people may be the vanguard, but the shift toward digital news reaches across age groups and across the entirety of the news media. In 2010, the only medium that saw audience growth was online. Everything else, from local TV news to cable to newspapers saw declines, some of them fairly steep. Cable TV audiences were down by more than 13 percent.

For older audiences, the technology itself is the draw. Young people may love their news online, but they probably find it harder to drop $500 on an iPad (and that's the cheapest model). The audience measurement firm comScore recently reported that 50 percent of iPad owners made more than $100,000 a year – not exactly student wages.

Two of the words most frequently applied to the iPad are "game changer." The slim relatively lightweight gadget makes the online reading experience much more like reading a newspaper of old – without the inky hands. And it has spawned a rush to the "computer tablet" market for computermakers. This year alone there will be dozens of tablets released by a range of makers – HTC, Acer, BlackBerry, Samsung. Many will be cheaper. Some are already under $200. And as the number of tablets in people's hands grows, the digital news revolution will take its next step.

There are real advantages to getting one's news on a tablet. Links are clickable. If you suddenly find yourself interested in a film review you can simply type a few words and watch its trailer. If you're unclear about events leading to, say, the conflict in Libya, help is a Google search away.

Add all that together and you understand the change will almost certainly be permanent.

What's lost, what's gained

But beyond all the chips and technology and social media, how different exactly is the new media world we have already half entered? Maybe not as much as you think.

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